This column appeared in today’s issue of the Saint City News. Some readers may think my assessments of council were too kind … or too mean. Click here to give your own marks by filling out the City Council Report Card survey.
St. Albertans only get once chance to grade their city politicians. It’s a pass-fail system that happens only once every three years. In preparation for that day, on Oct. 18 this year, here are my grades for St. Albert’s current council crop:
Mayor Nolan Crouse – A-
Nolan, 56, probably works harder than all the mayors in Western Canada. There’s no event that might be attended by St. Albert voters at which the Hizzoner does not turn up. He tries hard on our behalf to lobby provincial politicians, businesses and others who affect our lives and taxes. He communicates his agenda clearly, which is good news, even if you disagree with him. He speaks well and says nothing to embarrass us. Increasingly, however, he is cranky with council and staff behind closed doors. Many perceive him as too close to a city administration that has its own agenda. This is unfair – he has one of the sharpest minds, and tongues, on council when it comes to dissecting administration reports. But this perception needs attention if Nolan is to get an A!
Councillor Len Bracko – C
Len, 66, is the very model of the post-modern city councillor by merit of having been around so long and done so much. Alas, he’s slowed down too much lately, and his profile has receded – though never so far that he slips into the name-recognition danger zone. Len always makes the effort to ask a question, but it’s seldom very penetrating nowadays. He is more persuasive face to face than in groups. Still, one senses the penny hasn’t dropped for Len that the world changed for most of us when Alberta’s economic boom went bust.
Councillor James Burrows – B-
James, 46, works hard for his part-time councillor’s salary. He also works hard to boost his own profile: he’s brash to the point of grandstanding. He’s ambitious, trying hard to set himself apart from other local politicians by proposing original, even unusual, solutions to our problems – though not necessarily good ones. Say, like plunking an industrial park in the middle of a watershed. He can turn on a dime – and sometimes does when he shouldn’t. His meeting preparation can seem slapdash. He will push back if he’s not getting his way. B is for brass.
Councillor Gareth Jones – B+
Gareth, 70, has built himself a reputation as the councillor who does the math and speaks up to question expenditures. Every council needs a representative like this. He does his homework before council meetings, and the administration seldom slips one past him. But does he always follow through? Where the rubber hits the road – say, articulating the views of ratepayers who don’t understand the city manager’s generous raise – he sounds much the same as all the others.
Councillor Roger Lemieux – B-
Roger, 62, is a nice guy who usually plays well with others on council. He’s smart, too, and has the common sense that comes from building his own successful business. He’s lived here since he was a kid and has a good record of volunteer public service. For these reasons, his re-election is a shoo-in. However, people who know him well complain he can be prickly. And while he tries to put pressure on the administration behind the scenes, his public profile is so low most St. Albertans couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup. Roger’s mark would improve if he’d speak up for taxpayers outside class.
Councillor Lorie Garrity – C-
Lorie, 61, is an intelligent person who has contributed a lot. A former schoolteacher and principal, he is remembered fondly by many former students, a big asset on voting day. But he’s no firecracker on council, and occasionally seems dismissive of voters’ concerns about their taxes. Maybe because he’s a former school administrator, he seems too inclined to see things the city administration’s way. His profile is low, and one can’t help wondering if he’s losing interest.
Councillor Carol Watamaniuk – B-
Carol, 65, is one of St. Albert’s great characters. Unfortunately, she is often a single-issue politician, interested principally the arts community, for which she has done great things. Arts and heritage are important, and a good balance for the usual sports focus of municipal politicians, but do they belong on her personal radar screen at every council meeting? Residents concerned about taxes criticize her for not much caring about the impact of her initiatives. Often overlooked is the fact she has the best record on council on environmental issues. Think of her every time you see a bike rack on a bus. Carol says she intends to retire at the end of this term.
NOTE: In any municipality, feelings pro and con about municipal politicians run strong. I encourage comments on this blog. But please keep ’em civil. Comments that I feel are defamatory in the legal sense, or merely abusive, will not be permitted. I have old-fashioned attitudes about this, so my tolerance levels are pretty low.